All Blacks planning, desire to improve, in focus against Wallabies

Fri Aug 26, 2016 4:32am EDT
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By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's long-term planning will again come into focus on Saturday when they face Australia in the Rugby Championship, with his mantra of 'raising the bar' also likely to be tested.

Hansen's goal in 2016 has been about 'refreshing' the team with an eye on becoming the first side to win three successive World Cups when Japan hosts the tournament in 2019, consistently improving the team's standard of play along the way.

The inclusion of uncapped midfield back Anton Lienert-Brown for the clash at Wellington Regional Stadium (kickoff 0735 GMT) is the latest selection gamble Hansen has made on young players.

The 21-year-old, who will be the seventh debutant this season, had been on the selectors' radar since he was a student at Christchurch Boy's High, Hansen said, though his elevation came "probably a little earlier than expected".

"All of us knew who he was ... and that's why he's here," Hansen told reporters on Thursday. "He's good enough to be here and now he gets an opportunity.

"We're very confident that he'll go out and do the job."

Hansen's planning was not only evident with Lienert-Brown's selection, but also his decision to return Ben Smith to fullback and move Israel Dagg to the right wing for the clash that doubles as a Bledisloe Cup game.

Hansen said one reason was tactical -- he expected the Wallabies to kick for territory more often, which would allow Smith to have more impact on the game.   Continued...

The New Zealand All Blacks rugby team coach Steve Hansen speaks to the press under cloudy skies during a team training session in Sydney, Australia, August 19, 2016, before their first Bledisloe Cup game against Australia's Wallabies on Saturday. REUTERS/Jason Reed